Jeff Samardzija's 4.33 ERA might not show it, but he's finally on track and doing his thing. After his gem against Baltimore on Saturday, Samardzija has:
- Pitched at least seven innings in each of his last six starts (and nine of his last 10).
- Allowed just one homer over his last five starts.
- Allowed fewer hits than innings pitched in consecutive starts for the first time all season.
With Johnny Cueto and Cole Hamels commanding higher asking prices, writers -- both reporters and analysts -- are tying teams to Samardzija as an alternative with an easier-to-accept asking price. Those team names are starting to roll in, and in bulk.
Over at BP Wrigleyville, Ryan Lewis makes the case for the Cubs to come calling. Based on his prior knowledge of Samardzija's approach and a look at his numbers this season, he arrives at the conclusion that the only problem with Samardzija is the defense behind him.
So what does it all mean, man? I think the problem for Samardzija is that he pitches for the White Sox. Statistically, his fastball has brought a higher K rate (23 percent) than his cutter (20.7 percent). His BABIP is much higher on his cutter (.342) than his fastball (.256), as well. That means he’s relying on the team behind him to make plays much more often.
Again, something important from Sahadev’s piece stands out to me:
"Part of what contributed to Samardzija’s strong season last year was his ability to induce weak contact early in the game, allowing him to lower his pitch count and go deeper into games. Then, Samardzija would rack up the strikeouts later in the game if and when they were needed—his 37.5 percent strikeout rate in the seventh inning last season was easily his highest by inning." [...]
Consequently, Samardzija’s propensity for trying to induce contact early in the game to allow him to overpower batters later has worked against him this season.
Along these lines, one number that jumps out on Smarch's FanGraphs page is his left-on-base percentage. This is the first year since he became a starter that he's been well below average, and you can point to the combination of mistakes, misfortune and miscues behind him. He's limited the first category as of late, and the others are trying to fall in line.
The Cubs may not be the only NL Central team vying for Samardzija's services. Jesse Spector of the Sporting News says the Pirates should look at Smarch as a more feasible rotation upgrade than Hamels.
Samardzija would go into the Pirates’ rotation as the No. 3 or 4 starter, and his ability to go deep in games would help keep Pittsburgh’s bullpen — one of the Bucs’ greatest strengths — fresh. Even while he has struggled this year, Samardzija has worked at least seven innings in 11 of his 16 starts.
A fly ball pitcher, Samardzija might not appear to fit with a Pittsburgh staff that has the National League’s top ground ball rate, but an outfield with Starling Marte, Andrew McCutchen and Gregory Polanco is more than capable of providing defensive support to a pitcher like Samardzija, and Pittsburgh's PNC Park is not a home run haven.
Among the rumormongers:
*Ken Rosenthal made clear this isn't a rumor, but he sees Samardzija "a perfect fit for the New York Yankees." Caveats abound -- the White Sox haven't declared that they're selling, the teams haven't talked -- but Rosenthal mentions that Jim Hendry works for the Yankees, Samardzija wouldn't be intimidated by New York, and his wife is from the area.
*Joel Sherman of the New York Post likened Samardzija to a guy the Yankees acquired last deadline season, Brandon McCarthy, due to the combination of encouraging peripherals underneath mediocre traditional stats. With Arizona, McCarthy had been told to reduce the usage of his four-seamer and cutter. The Yankees brought those pitches back into play, and McCarthy responded by giving the Bombers a 2.89 ERA over 14 starts. He then signed a four-year deal with the Dodgers after the season.
*The Boston Globe's Nick Cafardo says Samardzija "may be the first starting pitcher moved" this month, saying the Royals, Astros, Tigers "and others" are in on him. Based on his column the week before, those "others" might include the Twins, Blue Jays, Yankees, Orioles, Angels and Dodgers.
One tangential thought
While Samardzija took a no-hitter into the sixth inning on Saturday afternoon, Yency Almonte came within one out of throwing a no-hitter for Kannapolis Saturday night.
Almonte, who turned 21 last month, is having a nice season for the Intimidators, with a 3.81 ERA and 56 strikeouts to 19 walks over 75⅔ innings. He often looks better than that line -- he now has four starts with six-plus innings and zero earned runs, and the Intimidators have some problems in the field.
The reason I bring him up, besides the shared no-hit bids? Almonte came to the White Sox from the Angels as the player to be named later in the Gordon Beckham deal. In fact, he was named so much later that he came to the Sox after they re-signed Beckham.
Almonte had some talent -- the Angels lured him away from a college commitment with a $250,000 bonus after drafting him in the 17th round of the 2012 draft, but pre-draft injury concerns followed him into his professional debut, and he couldn't get his career off the ground. Now he's generating some momentum with the Sox. He's still a long way off and it's way too early to say the Sox got a "steal," but the Sox got an interesting pitcher for a not-so-interesting infielder, and now they have both of them.
This is an argument for trading Samardzija, who should command a player (or players) more interesting than an injured A-ball pitcher, especially if Samardzija is set on entering free agency. If the market for Samardzija is that robust, it makes a lot of sense to shop him around, take the best offer, then take a shot at bringing him back over the winter.
The counterargument: Holding onto Samardzija makes it easier to re-sign him -- not because of a hometown discount, but because the Sox will in all likelihood give him a qualifying offer after the season, which will reduce the kind of contract he can command, especially from teams that would have to surrender a first-round draft pick.
If the Sox trade Samardzija, the team that acquires him can't give him a qualifying offer. Therefore, he'd enter free agency with no strings attached, and that'll bring more teams into the fray, and more aggressively.
That draft pick could be huge for Samardzija's value, especially since other starters expected to enter a stacked free agent class this coming winter -- David Price, Jordan Zimmermann, Zack Greinke and Mark Buehrle, among others -- aren't going anywhere at the deadline, and thus will get qualifying offers.
If Samardzija gets traded, the only other top pitcher who wouldn't cost a draft pick next winter will be Cueto, assuming the Reds deal him. If the Sox keep Samardzija, he could end up being the fourth choice for a more limited pool of teams, and that's not a great place to be for guys wanting to maximize their worth (see James Shields and Ervin Santana).
Both of these situations seem OK for the Sox, which is why I'm largely ambivalent about Samardzija's future on the South Side. For Samardzija, I'm guessing he wouldn't mind another midsummer trade this season. Or, at least his agent would be cool with it.